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History Detectives: Programs & Detective Bios

Grand Rapids Local History organizations sponsor History Detectives, a day-long FREE program hosted at the Grand Rapids Public Library.

History Detective Marty Thompson Arnold

Marty Thompson ArnoldAll Aboard for Kalamazoo!  Prepare yourself for a bone-shaking stagecoach ride down the “old plank road!” The year is 1855 and we’ll board at the Eagle Tavern on Market Street, pay the $2.50 toll and wait for the driver to shout, “All aboard for Shingle Corners, Wayland, Bradley, Martin, the Junction and Kal-amazoo!” Arnold will show both historical and contemporary photos of the plank road to illustrate why the Kalamazoo road was such a boon to the little village of Grand Rapids and how the gypsum trade contributed to its demise. Along the way Arnold will venture onto an even older wooden highway with images of rural life, stage coach rest stops, and the oldest brick house in West Michigan.

Marty Thompson Arnold grew up hearing her grandmother's stories of stage horses galloping past her grandparents’ farm just north of Kalamazoo. Another ancestor, “Farmer Poet” Asa Harding Stoddard, published a satirical poem about the “perils of the plank.” After moving to Grand Rapids in 1980, Arnold wanted to know more. In 1982 she published her first feature article in the Grand Rapid’s Press Wonderland Magazine called “Next Stop, Grand Rapids! On the Old Plank Road.” She later adapted it for the Kalamazoo Gazette. She presented to the Grand Rapids Historical Society and for several years led bus tours down the historic road.

History Detectives Julia Bouwkamp & Jo Ellyn Clarey

Centennial 2020! Grand Rapids, Suffrage City: At History Detectives the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council will launch a new digital suffrage exhibit and a year-long celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment granting universal suffrage. The outline of the national suffrage story is well known—but the national story is not the whole story, and local movements were critical. Grand Rapids’ efforts began in 1874 and at times took center stage, not only in Michigan, but nationwide. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here! And, in 1910, local suffragists sponsored the “Lilly Float,” heralded as “the first public affair of its kind ever held in Michigan.” Indeed, it was one of the earliest parade floats in the nation. Using the groundbreaking digital suffrage exhibit, Bouwkamp and Clarey will uncover exciting Grand Rapids stories and will illustrate local intersections with national and state movements’ long and tangled histories. Learn what-happened-when on the ground where you live!

Julia Bouwkamp


Julia Bouwkamp has put her degree in history from Calvin College to work ever since her graduation in 2015. She has worked as a historical interpreter at Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, for AmeriCorps VISTA in historic preservation, and as a researcher, speaker, and archivist with the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council and Froebel USA. Besides having recently finished curating a digital exhibit on women's suffrage for the GGRWHC, she has published entries on local historical women in Women’s Lifestyle Magazine and a substantive article on Dutch women during World War I in Origins, Calvin College’s historical magazine. During 2020 she will post substantial information about Grand Rapids women who ran for electoral office between 1887 and 1920 on the crowdsourcing site Her Hat Was in the Ring. Bouwkamp is currently applying to graduate programs in material culture and public history.

By profession a literary scholar, Jo Ellyn Clarey has redirected her path into the world of local women’s history. For the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, she continues advancing long-term projects highlighting the roles of local women in the Michigan suffrage movement; organizing research on U.S. women’s immense, but little known, work during WWI; and overseeing the completion of an electoral history of the city’s women, coordinated with a national crowd-sourcing project. She has served on the boards of the Grand Rapids Historical Society, the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, and acted as liaison to the Michigan Women's Studies Association. She has received two local history awards, has published locally in the field, and organized programming for numerous institutions and conferences. 

Jo Ellyn Clarey

History Detective Don Bryant

Don BryantHouse History: Uncovering Stories of Early African Americans in West Michigan:  The "where" and "when" of the history of 618 Sherman Street in the South Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids are not as important as the "who" and "why." Built in 1923 as a parsonage for a small Dutch church next door, the house has had an intriguing variety of residents over the decades. Long before the Great Northward Migration of the 20th Century, many African American families had already made their way to West Michigan, and some later passed through this house. Myles L. Woods Jr. owned the home for over six decades, becoming its longest-termed resident and most fascinating host. Woods was a Grand Rapids police patrolman from 1933 to 1966, and his extended family connects to 19th-century Mackinac Island and Grand Haven and includes abolitionists and other reform activists. Also revealed in 20th century Grand Rapids are prominent artists, entertainers, as well as the movers and shakers behind the founding of St. Philips Episcopal church and local chapters of the Urban League and NAACP.

Don Bryant is webmaster and past-president of the Western Michigan Genealogical Society. He and his wife, Mindy are Grand Rapids natives. Besides family history, Don is very involved in local history and has presented at History Detectives in past years. Don will share important resources and strategies for conducting effective house history searches.

History Detective Marcus Winchester

Marcus WinchesterHow the Pokagon Avoided Removal: A citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Marcus Winchester will discuss how the Pokagon Band avoided the Indian Removal Act of 1830 with tactfulness, relationship building, and ingenuity. In his role as director of the band’s Department of Language and Culture, Winchester promotes and maintains Potawatomi history, language, and culture for the future generations of his tribe. Today, many tribal members live in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana; some live in the Grand Rapids area.Marcus Winchester is a citizen of Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. 

History Detective Dr. Matthew Daley

Dr/ Matthew Daley with boatAn Island in the Furniture City: The Black Hills Neighborhood and Grand Rapids Industry:  Sandwiched among the industries of Godfrey Avenue, the Black Hills neighborhood continued a vital and rich community despite the collapse of the household furniture industry during the Great Depression. This discussion of its formation will examine the intersection of worker housing and homeownership, private developers, and the growth of a neighborhood specifically aimed at industrial workers. The community, closely tied to shifts in industry and with only two streets for access, developed its own identity and fortunes. Though not a traditional “company town,” the Black Hills neighborhood exemplifies the design, location, and financing of an entire industrial landscape crafted by an industry at its peak, in combination with private developers.

Dr. Matthew Daley is Associate Professor of History at Grand Valley State University. He holds a B.A. in History from University of Detroit Mercy, and M.A. in History from Wayne State University, and a Ph.D. in History from Bowling Green State University. His fields include Michigan, Urban, Public, Great Lakes, and Maritime history. He is a frequent public speaker on a variety of topics including the history of Michigan, Grand Rapids, Detroit, urban issues, and local history.

History Detective Timothy Gleisner

Tim GleisnerRoots and Results: The Furniture Strike of 1911:  In April 1911 over four thousand furniture workers made common cause, walked off their jobs in 35 factories, and shut down the Grand Rapids furniture industry. The largely recent immigrants--Dutch, Poles, and Lithuanians--overcame their history of cultural divisions and language barriers to take on the powerful Furniture Manufacturers Association, a group employing one-third of the city’s work force. Prompted by long-simmering labor grievances and a strengthening relationship between owners and bankers, the Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike remains today the largest and longest labor protest in the city's history. Technically, the strike failed after nineteen weeks; but the strikers had laid the groundwork for lasting changes in the economic, social, and political history of Grand Rapids.

Timothy Gleisner is the Head of Collections at the Library of Michigan. He previously worked as the Head of Special Collections at the Grand Rapids Public Library, and Head of Local History and Genealogy at the Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan. In 2018 the National Genealogical Society presented the Filby Award to Gleisner for his work in making significant contributions to library patron access to information and the preservation of historical records; activities that have significantly advanced genealogy and local history; and work that has encouraged others to be innovative in the field.